I’M COVERED

Photo Courtesy of Stock.xchng

Photo Courtesy of Stock.xchng

I know there are heated debates across our nation about the Affordable Care Act. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion – It’s America, baby. Besides, a life devoid of diversity of opinion would be dull and boring.

This post is about how ACA has impacted me personally. My intent here is to state the facts of my personal experience as I see them play out in my life.

I was one of the fortunate few. The stars aligned and I sailed through the health care website without a hitch on my first try. My coverage was in place on 1/1/14.

This coverage is vitally important to me on several levels.  ACA allows me to get insurance without being tied to traditional work just for the sake of insurance coverage. A few years ago I shared a conversation with a friend who could not find an insurance company anywhere to take on all her preexisting conditions. And this friend could afford to pay a heavy premium. At that point, I thought I would be forever tied to traditional work just for the sake of medical insurance due to my preexisting cancer diagnosis.

Then along came ACA.

I work from home now with the flexibility I need to take care of my men. Where would we be without ACA?  I’d STILL be rushing to work away from home, attending overnight conferences, and dreaming every night about the daily juggle of family and work. Ronnie would STILL be watching me zip here to there at an exhausting pace like he’s done for 16 years since his stroke. The whole family would STILL be taking turns staying with dad, or he would be in a nursing home. Five or more different people would STILL be taking turns driving him to the next doctor’s appointment, five or more different pairs of ears hearing the latest medical update or medication change—a situation ripe for errors and miscommunications. I’d STILL be dreaming about working from home and praying that my dad and husband would make it through the day without one or both spending hours alone sprawled out in the middle of the floor.

It’s not all hearts and rainbows, however. When comparing my ACA plan to my previous coverage through my employer, I’m paying more each month in premiums and deductibles. Yes I was SPOILED. But I’m adjusting. Every time I have to pay a little more out of pocket than I’m accustomed to, I remind myself of the flexibility I now enjoy. Three months in, and so, far ACA has been a blessing.


THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN HIKE

path to cave

I took this picture the day after an extraordinarily windy Halloween night. A couple of Sundays prior, my son organized a team of us to clear this path and I wanted to survey any damage done to our work. His gathering us together and traveling 25 miles to complete manual labor on property he doesn’t own exemplifies what this land and my mom means to him – what it and she means to us all. There is no way to number the times we hiked this path with her. And on this day after Halloween hike, the sound of my lone feet crunching the blanket of leaves underneath reminds me of her, makes me long for her by my side, hand in hand for support as our feet crunch leaves at a slower more deliberate pace.

It’s been almost three months since we lost her. Unbelievable! It seems just yesterday she was helping me raise my son while I worked days I longed to spend with him. But if I had to leave him with someone, she was always first choice. And this land served as his ultimate playground. When technology was on the cusp of overtaking outdoor play for kids, my son romped these hills making paintball forts, camp fires and home videos.

For the time being, I’m fortunate enough to enjoy this land on a daily basis. Ronnie and I sold our house and have moved in with dad. I’ve left what has been traditional work for me and am spending my days caring for the both of them. I’m blessed that they are in good enough shape to spare me for 30 minutes here and there to walk this path. On this particular day after Halloween hike, I wait for the peace that solitude usually brings, but the rhythm of those dang leaves crunching underfoot breeds memories of her final days and what she endured. I stop and take this picture. In the silence, I push those painful thoughts aside, for I witnessed her suffering first hand and find no comfort in revisiting them. Instead I focus on paintball forts, camp fires, home videos and the unpretentious woman who made it all possible.


THE END

What would be a good end of life? Judy MacDonald Johnston shared a thoughtful, touching example in a recent TED Talk.

When it comes to the important work of planning for our end of life, procrastination many times wins out. But excuses will be of no comfort to our kids after we are gone, and they are left to guess their way through our undocumented wishes.

If I dropped dead right now, would our kids know the names of all Ronnie’s doctors? Would they know our wishes for Ronnie’s future care? Would they know something as simple as how to refill his medications? I could go on and on with such unanswered questions. However, Judy’s video and supporting worksheets have inspired a new goal: to think this through with Ronnie, get it down on paper, and make it legal.

Have you already thought it through, got it down on paper, and made it legal? If so, please share your lessons learned.


DRESSED BY A MOTHER’S LOVE

As this Mother’s Day comes to a close, here’s my post about three dresses, two pictures, and my sweet little mother.

I will never forget the day mom came home from work with a package in hand — FOR ME! What a surprise, and for no special occasion, no reason other than walking from the court house across Main Street to Smith’s Department Store to kill some time during lunch. She spotted this baby blue dress (my signature color) and felt I should have it (see pic – second from the left). Debbies weddingShe said it was on sale, but even then I realized the extravagance of the purchase. But I didn’t let that stop me from enjoying the coolest dress ever. I was hot stuff (or so I thought) and I felt so loved every time I wore that dress. I look back now and better see what that dress represented. It was the reason mom, despite her nature to mother, worked outside the home – so that we could have the occasional extra. Over the years she has told me that was one thing she regretted, not being home with us full time.

Even when she was working, mom could always make time to sew for us kids. While this was many times accomplished at four o’clock in the morning, I loved to watch her sew when I got the chance (which was not at four o’clock in the morning). By the time I was in high school, she had taught me to hem and remove the collars from men’s shirts for that mandarin collar look. When time for senior prom rolled around, we shopped for patterns and material, and she guided me in making my own peachy (my new signature color) prom dress! prom dress

The following year I attended college in West Tennessee. One day when I was feeling especially homesick in my dorm room, I heard a knock. I opened the door, and there stood my little niece, Mandy, with that head full of blonde hair shining like the sun. No one else in sight, just Mandy. I was delighted to see her but was frozen in space, confused, not only about how she got there but by what she was wearing. She had on a multi patterned dress that was the exact replica of a dress I had left hanging in my closet at home. She had on MY DRESS (no picture available at this time)! Mom appeared at the door as I picked up Mandy and gave her a big hug. Mom explained that she had unseamed, cut down, and resewed the dress for my darling niece. I had been so homesick, and to see one of the ones I missed most in that dress, made by the one I missed most of all, my mother, was heaven.

Over the last few days as Mother’s Day approached, I’ve thought about this post and what I might write. I thought it would be perfect if I could get a picture of each dress to include in this post. So after a Mother’s Day filled family and good times, Ronnie and I drove back to mom’s and spent the evening searching through boxes of pictures. I knew I could get my hands on two of the ones I needed, but held little hope of finding an image of my niece in MY DRESS. Mom so enjoyed picking up various pictures and commenting on them or asking me who was who. First I came across my peachy senior prom picture and placed it on the floor at my feet. Then beyond all hope, there was tiny precious Mandy in my dress mom had cut down for her. I added it to my stack on the floor. All I needed now was my sister’s wedding picture with me in that baby blue dress. Jackpot! A framed picture of my sister’s wedding. We had found all I needed. I bent down to add the last picture to the pile and noticed a picture missing. Mom had already started cleaning up, and the picture of Mandy was gone. I handed Ronnie the other two pictures thinking they would be safe from mom’s busy hands. After searching a box by my side with no luck, I walked over to Ronnie to get the two pictures left. But mom had taken the framed wedding picture from Ronnie and stowed it away – SOMEWHERE! Beyond frustrated, I took the one picture spared, walk outside and put it in our car. I dug through drawers in the spare bedroom and finally found the wedding picture. But the one picture I doubted even existed, was nonexistent. Gone in a snap, like a thought or a memory. After a lifetime of picking up after us five kids and my dad, what else can be expected? To tell mom to not clean up after someone is like telling an accountant not to count, a teacher not to teach, a writer not to write, a human not to breathe. It’s in her DNA. It’s a task that keeps her moving, keeps her going. A task once about keeping the house in order but is now about DOING before the memory TO DO is forgotten.

Thanks to dementia and poor eyesight, those busy hands no longer sew, and her confidence in buying something personal for me faded long ago. But she eagerly awaits the opportunity to clean up anything I dare put to the side.

God love her! I love her, too!

Thank you, Lord, for a Mother’s Day I hope I never forget.


TURNING POINTS ALONG THE WAY

Moments of deep despair and desperation can be turning points in our lives.

I was reminded of this recently while talking with a dear friend. As the one year anniversary of her husband’s stroke neared, she pulled out the journal she’d kept during the weeks of her husband’s hospitalization. She found herself reflecting on all the good that had come from that horrible experience; the relationships she formed with some of the medical staff who served as a support to her as they nursed her husband back to health, the cards and visits from friends and the unexpected cards from people she barely knew, her church family who saw to it that folks across the country added her family to their prayer list, the meals provided after they returned home from the hospital. This stroke anniversary was also a reminder that a full year had passed without her realizing it, with all the running here and there to teaching engagements and doctor’s appointments while keeping the dogs fed and the house in one piece along with the multitude of other duties caregivers take on. In many ways it had been a lonely year of loss and despair. However, upon reflection, she realized all the good that had come from that terrible time.

As I reflect on the year that has passed since her husband’s stroke, I find that she is dearer to me than ever. We were very close before his stroke. Were even known to double date now and then, which is huge, for Ronnie and I have been somewhat socially isolated since his stroke. Now, my friend and I are both married to stroke survivors. Mutual admiration and understanding encircle us, bonding us in a way perhaps otherwise impossible without stroke touching both our lives. When we find ourselves in territories of loneliness, time together is good medicine. She reminds me I am loved and cared for by many. I hope I do the same for her.

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So the next time you face desperation and despair, remember; a turning point may be headed your way that reminds you who and what you treasure most.

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NORMAL DEFINED

If you are reading this and you are a caregiver, I think my definition of normal might speak to you.

Normal is care-giving days filled with joy and fulfillment as I:

  • think about how much the people I care for mean to me
  • marvel at their accomplishments despite the bodily deterioration that comes with age and disability
  • take on every care-giving task with passion and zeal.

Equally normal are those days when:

  • it feels my life is on hold while I see to the needs of those around me
  • my energy is zapped along with my hopes, dreams, and goals
  • I feel guilty for taking a day for myself when my people have far too much time by themselves as it is.

This is my normal. Sometimes it’s pretty — sometimes not so much. To deny the “not so much” and declare only the “pretty” would be a lie.

But let’s make one thing perfectly clear: having these people in my life to care-give for is always a blessing.

Good days and bad, a plethora of emotions and feelings: that’s my normal. That’s my truth.


HARD TIMES CAN MAKE US BETTER

Have you ever heard of someone winning the lottery and becoming an instant millionaire only to be flat broke a year later.  Easy come easy go as they say. But what if a millionaire had worked hard, earned every penny the hard way, then experienced a devastating road block along the way like a major health crisis. Do you think the millionaire in scenario two might be a wiser consumer of her hard earned millions? I would assume so. When I become a millionaire, I’ll let you know for sure:-)

When life comes too easy (when we don’t have to work for it,) we sometimes lack the wisdom to make wise choices.

I will never forget the woman I meet in Jan. of 1998. Her husband was recovering from a stroke in the same facility as my husband. See my blog post THE GOOD THAT COMES WITH LIFE’S ROUGH PATCHES for more about her story. In short, it took a major roadblock to turn her husband around, to make him the loving partner he should have been all along. She told me his stroke was the best thing that had ever happened to their relationship. The stroke had made him a better person. How sad is that?

Has my husband’s stroke made me a better person? It has made me stronger, that’s for dang sure. I was a brand new teacher when Ronnie had his stroke. Had taught for four short months and was having a very rough start to my teaching career. Would I still be in education if not for Ronnie’s stroke? Without Ronnie’s income, there was no other choice–I had to teach. Not only that, I had a son to raise, a husband who needed me to continue the speech, occupational and physical therapy that was no longer covered by our insurance. Man, was I ever torn, dedicating so much time to my job when my life’s most important roles were based at home.

This care-giving journey has also made me a better listener, for I know that kick in the gut feeling from being asked, “How’s Ronnie doing?” only to have that person’s eyes wander when I give too much information. I think what they really want to hear is that Ronnie’s doing fine, but sometimes I have more on my heart to tell. This experience has taught me that if I take the time to ask, I MUST take the time to listen, to maintain eye contact, to hear and respond to whatever is pouring from someone’s heart.

How have hard times made you a wiser and better person?


WRITING: GOOD THERAPY FOR THIS CAREGIVER

Processing my caregiving journey through this blog has served as a reflective and curative process. But this blog is not my only source of therapeutic writing. I’ve written short stories, poetry, an entire novel, and children’s picture books. However, most of these works remain undocumented. That’s about to change.

Check out my Indiegogo project for my soon to be published children’s picture book, The Readyville Mill. Indiegogo is a crowd funding site where artist can create and post projects in hopes that family, friends and followers will help fund their work.

I’ve tinkered with The Readyville Mill off and on for a few years now, with much help from writing friends along the way. As I reflect on those precious times, those sessions around the table critiquing each other’s work, I wonder if they realize how our time together not only supported me as a writer but sent me home to Ronnie refreshed and recharged. That’s what good friends and good hobbies do.

Who do you spend time with or what do you do to refresh and recharge?


A ROLE-MODEL FOR THOSE WITHIN OUR CIRCLE

John C. Maxwell has released a new book, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential. His 8th law is titled: The Law of Pain: Good Management of Bad Experiences Leads to Great Growth.

If you are a caregiver, something bad has happen to someone close to you. How you manage the struggles of day to day caregiving can lead to great growth for yourself and those looking to you as a role-model. And we truly are role-models, for most all who know us will be caregivers at some point in their lives.

While I try to be a good role-model, I don’t give enough thought to this role. And I’ve made plenty of mistakes to learn from along the way. But I am thankful for the caregiver role-models in my life, and all I have learned from their example.

How do you manage the difficult times? Have you experienced personal growth as a result? Are you a positive role model for the future caregivers within your circle?


TAKING SHELTER FROM THE STORM

Photo Courtesy of Stock.xchng

Despite Ronnie’s right side hemiplegia, he is able to mow the yard using our riding mower. My regular readers know that Ronnie experienced some medical issues this summer with a couple of surgeries and infections. These medical problems curtailed Ronnie’s mowing for several weeks. I was surprised when he didn’t put up a fuss that first time I mowed in his place. He knew his body needed the rest.

Thankfully, Ronnie is well enough now to mow again. One day last week after work, I got Ronnie on the mower then went inside to finish painting our bathroom. I’m painting away, listening for the mower, and peeking out the window every 20 minutes or so to make sure he’s ok.

As the evening wore on, I got so involved in the painting I lost track of time, until thunder rattled the windows.  I looked out and at first thought I’d painted into the night. When I got outside I realized a horrible thunder storm was overhead. Lightening all around. Swirling black, angry clouds that looked ready to dump a hail storm at any second. And what was Ronnie Foster doing? Finishing the yard, no matter what. I rushed toward him. When he saw me coming and pointing toward the house, he kept on mowing. I had to run up to the mower and shout, “Get home,” like I was reprimanding a naughty puppy.

What was he thinking? He could’ve been struck by lightning, pounded by a hail storm, sucked into the vortex of those twisting and twirling clouds.

After he was inside and safe and after I had calmed down a bit, I reminded myself that mowing is a post-stroke passion for Ronnie. It gets him outside, allows him to operate a piece of machinery, provides the opportunity for productive work. Some think I shouldn’t let Ronnie mow, that it’s too dangerous. But this work must be preserved for as long as Ronnie is able, for it provides much purpose and satisfaction. Ronnie may not know when to come out of the storm, but he does know when his body can’t withstand the job.

We must walk a fine line in our role as caregivers as we attempt to balance safety with living life to the fullest extent possible. I believe it’s vital to support Ronnie in his desire for productive work, but sometimes I need to remind myself that Ronnie may not worry with the storm brewing overhead — That’s my job.